Logical Steps Through Darkness: The Path Toward #NBCT

Jess Ledbetter National Board Certification, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership, Uncategorized

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Are you working on National Board Certification or coaching NB candidates? I have this little mantra that’s become a good friend over the years. I want to share it with you and tell you what it means to me:

Logical steps forward through darkness

This mantra got me through National Board Certification. This mantra helped me continue when the directions seemed vague and I did not have the answers yet. This mantra gave me the space to become a reflective practitioner and overcome the fear that I was making missteps. By taking logical steps forward in my moments of darkness, I found my way into beautiful areas of clarity that transformed my practice and informed my work with students.

So you’re rolling your eyes. I totally get that! Don’t think I’ve forgotten the suffocating feeling of being stuck. I coach National Board candidates now, and I have a deep respect for stuck moments. I remember the feeling of having no direction and EVERY direction all at once. It’s mind numbing. But over and over again, I find myself giving the same advice:

Keep taking logical steps forward through the darkness. Your future self has the answers!

And I believe that is the absolute truth. When you feel stuck, find the faith in yourself to make a logical step forward. Reflect as you go to determine if you are on the best path, a side path, or the wrong path. When you take a little diversion and find yourself back where you started, you are not lost. You have learned something. You know to choose a different direction next time. And you know why the last path didn’t work. These are the lessons that transform ordinary teachers into NBCT greatness.

Two years ago, I started a district-level cohort to support colleagues seeking National Board Certification. My own path of supporting and promoting NB has not always been clear, and I have found myself continuing to lean on the advice: Logical steps forward through the darkness. I trust teachers as the experts of their own craft and portfolio, but I still felt major anxiety while our candidates were awaiting scores in December. Had we supported them in the right ways? Had they demonstrated their accomplished teaching with the most clear, concise, and convincing statements? Did they choose the right evidence and artifacts? It was a nail biter for me!

As the scores rolled in, I felt a big sigh of relief. Our candidates were really successful! Once again, I realized the power of this mantra: Logical steps forward in darkness. I wasn’t able to read every word, check every form, or review every artifact. And I didn’t need to. I realized that being a Candidate Support Provider requires having faith in the candidates to keep taking their own logical steps forward. I realized their future selves really did have the answers to the stuck moments we had pondered together. How powerful! Giving candidates that space allowed them to find their own moments of clarity that transformed their own thinking and practices.

So as my candidates work on their NB portfolios this year, I continue to offer the advice: Keep taking steps logical forward through the darkness. Don’t get stuck. Your future self has the answer!

Time and again, I have learned that seemingly vague portfolio directions are an act of kindness and wisdom from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. They allow teachers to journey, to ponder, to discover, and most importantly: To highlight their greatest accomplishments in teaching. The vagueness is there so that teachers have space to shine a light on themselves!

So whether you are a National Boards Candidate or a Candidate Support Provider, keep taking those logical steps forward. The darkness does not last forever!

Special thanks for these beautiful, free images!


Dr. Jess Ledbetter teaches preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU in 2016. Her mixed methods research used a Communities of Practice model as a strategy for early career special education teachers to collaborate with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms. Dr. Ledbetter is guided by the belief that all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. She hopes you will contribute to the dialogue by leaving comments about your own experiences, opinions, and insights so that real-life stories from our schools can inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities.

Comments 9

  1. Rachel Perugini

    What a great post for me now that I’ve certified and want to be a CSP. I appreciated all the support I received on my NBCT journey and I’m ready to pay it forward now that I’m officially certified!

    1. Jess Ledbetter

      Good for you! I remember being nervous to switch roles, but it gets easier. Working as a CSP is so inspiring. I love being connected to NBCT candidates and hearing about their innovative ideas. It just keeps my own knowledge and enthusiasm for teaching growing. Congrats on your letters Rachel Perugini, NBCT. Stellar accomplishment! :)

  2. Nicole Wolff

    Great advice, Jess! I remember that lost feeling well and the desperation of thinking I didn’t know what to do. Taking the next best step is what got me through! This is not only applicable to the pursuit of National Board Certification, but each endeavor we pursue.

    1. Jess Ledbetter

      I really like these words “the next best step” and think I’ll be using them with teachers. It’s so important to remember that you don’t always have to decide on ALL the steps at once. The next best step keeps you moving forward and gives the chance to reflect and modify the path as you go. You are right, this is more than just NB advice but great life advice as well!

  3. Leah Clark

    Girl, I needed this tonight. I am sitting in Sierra Vista at a student council convention working on NBs. I have one million questions and zero answers. Your advice is so spot-on for this process. I have to keep telling myself, “You can do this. There will be a spark soon that will light the darkness that is National Boards.” Thank you for supporting all of us on this journey and in the process.

    1. Jess Ledbetter

      So glad you enjoyed it Leah! Have faith in yourself, your training, and your experiences that will lead you forward on a path that makes sense later :) LOL. I like how Nicole says above to choose “the next best step” rather than worrying about all the steps. My husband often reminds me about an hour glass and how only so much sand can go through at a time–but eventually all the sand gets through. I love that symbolism. I keep an hour glass on my desk to calm my anxious thoughts when big picture things feel so overwhelming. Keep going with your logical steps! You will be amazed about the journey when you reach the destination :)

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